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ARCHIVE: Minnesota Orchestra (May 2019)

Originally published 5/20/2019

This past weekend I flew to Minneapolis to hear two concerts by the Minnesota Orchestra, where my son Erik has been playing in the cello section since January. Guest conductor Edward Gardner led the orchestra, the impressive Minnesota Chorale, and four all-star soloists in Giuseppe Verdi’s monumental Requiem. These concerts are among the most engaging and thrilling orchestral performances I have ever heard.

Conducting from memory, Gardner deftly paced and balanced the combined forces, making the work feel shorter than its 83-minute length. The large Minnesota Chorale sang with cohesion and showed exceptional equality between the four vocal sections. Whether singing full strength or in a whisper, tempo changes were secure and the fugal sections were fleet and pristine. The four vocal soloists were superb. Bass Eric Owens projected with unforced power and admirable clarity. Tenor René Barbera maintained a beautiful tone in all ranges and at all dynamics. Verdi assigned larger musical roles to the two female soloists, and both excelled, contributing to several tear-filled moments. Mezzo Elizabeth DeShong had a voice that sounded like an ideal combination of Marilyn Horne and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Her voice projected with richness and power, and was imbued with seemingly infinite expressive nuance. Soprano Ailyn Pérez’ voice floated throughout the hall with stunning effect as she held the audience captive on each note. She maintained balance in her solos with the chorus, even in the most powerful moments. Libera me, at the conclusion of the Requiem, is one of the greatest expressions in music. It received as fine an interpretation as can be imagined.

The Minnesota Orchestra performed with an accuracy and beauty of sound that brings to mind the great Concertgebouw Orchestra. Each string section was totally unified, with scrupulous attention to dynamics, articulation, and intonation. (For example, the treacherous opening to Offertorio was played to perfection by the cello section.) The woodwinds featured numerous outstanding solos, the brass was supportive and powerful, and the percussion earth-shaking in Dies irae. The audience responded with genuine enthusiasm and a spontaneous standing ovation. This is a superbly disciplined ensemble, with few equals anywhere.

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